September 30, 2010
Beans with Bacon
I'm a big fan of beans, and possibly a bigger fan of bacon. Fortunately, they need not be mutually exclusive.
I grew up eating Boston-style baked beans - sometimes the canned kind, but if we were lucky, the kind made from scratch, soaking the beans overnight and baking them slowly in the oven in a specially designed bean pot. Sweet and savory, hearty and comforting. Something that you wait for, and are rewarded for your patience.
I still like to make beans from scratch. Aside from the classic baked version, I developed a Stovetop version that only takes a couple of hours. It's not as good as the original, which takes about nine hours, but clocking in at under two hours, it's easier to wedge into my schedule (and it's still better than the canned kind).
The beans above, however, are not the "Boston" kind at all. They're a simple pot of pinto beans and bacon, with the flavour supplemented by onions and garlic, cooked with bayleaf and salt. It's a sort of foundation recipe, good on toast for a light supper, or to be seasoned up in the manner of your own choosing. I took inspiration from the Mexican dish called "thick beans", served as a protein/starch side dish, and often cooked with lots of lard. The lard in this recipe is only a little of the rendered bacon fat, but I've left the chunks of bacon in.
The thing that really elevated this dish was the quality of the bacon. My friend Rodney smokes his own bacon, and is extremely generous in sharing the bounty. I cut the bacon into thick lardons, and seared it quickly to render enough of the fat to saute some onions and garlic. Then I added the dried (washed) pinto beans, the bayleaf, and enough water to cover the beans generously, brought the whole thing to a simmer, and let it cook, covered over the lowest temperature on my stove until the onions and garlic dissolved, and the beans became tender. I checked on them periodically, topping up the water level as necessary as the beans absorbed the liquid.
The final stage was to add a little salt, and then mash up some of the beans and stir them back into the pot, thickening the gravy and cushioning the rest of the beans.
The beans were exactly what I wanted them to be (although I'm now contemplating making a spicy version, which would also be good). Even more, as the leftovers were turned into a delicious bean and bacon soup, which, on its own is a fine reason to cook up a big pot of beans.